Starting your own business is scary and can seem overwhelming. There are a lot of businesses out there, and it can be hard to differentiate yourself from the rest.
As a marketer, I always find it interesting looking at how different businesses choose to market themselves. Often, the most successful businesses are not those that invest a lot of money into their marketing and promotion, but those that really understand their customers and the value that their product or service provides them.
With that being said, your business can’t survive without a few fundamentals – customers and profit. Small Business Trends released an article earlier this year about the hard truths of starting a business. If you really want your business to succeed, you need a plan. Written down, clear as day, who you are and what you’re offering.
Write out your business plan.
You don’t have to know how to write a professional business plan, but you do need a strong understanding of your business to be able to answer a few key questions to get started. If you can’t write your business plan, then you’re probably not ready to launch your business yet.
Some good starting points include:
- What does your business offer? The more you can narrow this down to a specific niche, industry, product etc., the easier it will be to market. One of the main reasons businesses don’t see a return on investment on their marketing efforts is because the overall plan of the business is cloudy, meaning customers don’t exactly know what you’re offering. Start-up businesses don’t need to be a ‘jack-of-all-trades’. Don’t complicate things. Pick a direction for your business, build a plan, and follow through.
- What is your ‘Point-of-Difference’? Your point-of-difference (POD) is what separates your business from your competitors. Why would a customer choose you over another company with the exact same product or service? For example, if you were a Personal Trainer just starting out, you need to decide what it is about you and your services that make you more desirable over other PT’s. Sure, you could drop your price low to attract customers, but this isn’t a good long-term strategy. You’re here to make money, so you need to develop a solid client base that will stick with you, despite your fees.
- What are your ‘Points-of-Parity’? Points-of-parity (POP) refer to aspects of your business that your competitors also offer. You have to recognise that there are likely other businesses out there with the same or similar offering to you. By acknowledging your similarities, you can clearly identify what you have that is different, and can set you apart from your competitors.
- What is my ‘Value Proposition’? Continuing on from the above train of thought, you need to decide what is value of your product or service? To simplify this idea, have a look at the below diagram – where do you fit in? This will determine your branding strategy, including how much you charge for your product or service, and what the perceived value is of your customers, i.e. what are they willing to pay?
Decide how you’re going to attract business.
What’s the best way to gain exposure so people find your business? Short answer: Get a good website.
This is a somewhat complex question, as it can often depend on what your business does exactly. BUT, I definitely believe that you cannot gain any credibility as a professional business without a website. In today’s day, the first thing people do when they need something is look it up online. The second most popular thing to do is to ask a friend or colleague for a recommendation. Therefore, the 2 most important things to do would be to establish yourself online, and get yourself a good reputation to generate word-of-mouth.
Social media also plays a strong role in exposure as it requires low financial investment, but it can be difficult to establish any definitive return-on-investment – especially if you don’t know a lot about it.
My advice: if you don’t know much about social media, start with a website. The social stuff can come later.
How do you want people to contact you?
Having a phone number and email address are obvious answers, but think about things a little bit deeper.
- Do you have a professional looking email address? Or is it something old and cringeworthy? This can make a HUGE difference to whether someone contacts you or not.
- Are you advertising your personal mobile number? If possible, having a phone number with a separate agenda can save you a lot of frustration (e.g. getting business calls out of hours, on holidays), plus it allows you to set up an answering or forwarding service so calls never get forgotten.
- Will you be answering all enquiries yourself? Or do you have a partner/assistant/receptionist to field incoming queries?
- Does your website have a submission form?
- How will you manage all your enquiries to ensure everyone gets a response in a timely and professional manner?
- Do you have a customer database to store information such as names, phone numbers, email addresses (very important to ensure customer retention)
- Do you have a loyalty or referral program? Giving people a reason to come back or refer you to a friend can have significant ROI
How are you going to remain profitable?
Successful businesses focus on 3 things:
- Customer satisfaction
- Feedback and improvement
- Brand management
Retaining existing customers is a lot less expensive than constantly acquiring new ones. The Leaky Bucket Theory explores the concept of what happens when businesses focus more on keeping loyal customers, than always chasing new ones. The results are favourable: keep your existing customers happy for a long and profitable business life.
Consider ways that you can gain feedback from customers and potential prospects on what you’re doing right, and where they think you can improve. If possible, always try and get an ‘exit follow up’ from a lost customer to find out [at the very least] why they are leaving you. The results may be surprising, and will give you direction in what to focus on to improve your business.
The most basic advice I can give for successful brand management is to constantly evolve your branding strategy based on concrete information. Collect and use reliable data from your own experience, and implement it back into your business to improve it.
If you have any specific questions regarding starting up your business, feel free to leave it in the comments section below, or contact me directly.